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Pronunciation of Consonant Sounds (Part 1)


Welcome back to a new article.
It’s time to start with the Pronunciation of Consonant Sounds.

Here are the links to the past articles to catch up on –
Understanding IPA , Pronunciation Part 2, Pronunciation Part 1

I hope you remember the difference between consonants and vowels.
Consonants sounds have one or the other obstruction in the air flow while speaking. Whereas vowel sounds don’t have any blockage of air, just the vocal cords vibrating. This means vowel sounds are voiced sounds.

Do you know what a voiced sound is?


The sounds that are produced with the help of the vibration of the vocal cords are voiced sounds.
For Example – try this to produce this sound /z/ – zzzzzzzz
And put your hand on your throat. Do you feel some vibration?
This vibration is the indication that your vocal cords are vibrating.

On the other hand, a voiceless sound doesn’t involve the vibration of the vocal cords. These sounds are produced with the help of other articulators and air.
For Example – say this sound /s/ – sssssssssss
And put your hand on your throat again. Do you feel the vibration again?
I hope you don’t, because you should not.
The other way of understanding the difference between the two is to listen to the sounds itself.

For example-
Listen to the audio below

There are 2 people making the same sound.
Can you tell the difference among those people as they say ‘shhh’?
Can you tell who is who?
Try it with the people around you.


‘Shh’ is a voiceless sound and we can only hear the air flow. It’s hard to tell who is who by a voiceless sound.

Now listen to these audio

Are you able to hear the difference between the sounds?
Hopefully, your answer is yes. This is because now their vocal cords are vibrating, which gives them and us our unique voices.
All the vowel sounds are voiced. But the consonants have both voiced and voiceless sounds.

To understand the consonants well, we are going to divide them into 2 parts:

a. Unpaired Consonants –

There are 8 consonant sounds which have a unique way of being pronounced.

b. Paired Consonants.

These are 16 consonants, in 8 pairs, and have the same place of articulation with the only difference being the use of the vocal cords. That means one of them is voiced and the other is not.

We are going to concentrate on the unpaired consonants in this article.

These are

/m/

/n/

/ŋ/

/h/

/l/

/r/

/w/

/j/

Let’s go through them one by one.

Note – Please note that all the words spoken in the audios below are exaggerated. That means that they have been pronounced very slowly to help you hear the sound clearly. In normal conversation they are spoken fast and clearly.

Here are the links to recall articulators – Articulators Part 1 & Articulators Part 2

Use this in case of confusion.

1. /m/

This is just like the letter M. The sound is mmmmmmmm…
/m/ sound simply requires us to close our mouth completely by pressing our lips together and let the air come out of our nose so that no air escapes through the mouth.
The soft palate moves down so that air is free to flow through the nose and not from the mouth.
/m/ is a voiced sound which means that the vocal cords vibrate.

Practice – Man, Meaning, Flame, Tomorrow

2. /n/

Another nasal sound is /n/. Again air flows from the nose. But for /n/ we need to block air from escaping the mouth with the use of our tongue, not lips. Our tongue touches the alveolar ridge and stops any air from getting out. Only the sound of the vibrating vocal cords comes out of the mouth.

Also, the soft palate drops low. Hence this sound is voiced too.

Practice – Name, Night, Fanatic, Fan

3. /ŋ/

This is a unique nasal sound that we make especially when we speak any ‘ng’ word.
For example – laughiNG – Here, the ‘NG’ is the /ŋ/ sound.
To produce this, the back of your tongue will touch the hard palate. Also, the soft palate is low.
This is a voiced sound as well.

Practice – Think, Sing, Long, Thing

These 3 nasal sounds are very similar, and the only difference is the position of the tongue.

Let’s do an exercise.
Lets try to pronounce all of these sounds in a sequence – /m/ /n/ /ŋ/ – 5 times in a row!

Practice – /m/ /n/ /ŋ/

Are you able to feel the difference? The position of your tongue decides the sound here.

In each case, the air comes out of the nose but the sound of the vibration of the vocal cords comes out of the mouth as well. That’s why these are voiced sounds.

4. /h/

This is an aspirated sound, which means it is just a gush of air, like a sigh.

All the articulators or speech organs are at rest and only the sound of the air coming out of the mouth is heard. This sound is not very prominent and takes the help of the vowel that follows it to be heard easily.

Practice – Happy, Hat, How, Hit



5. /l/

Another voiced sound, /l/ is pronounced when the tip of our tongue touch the alveolar ridge and the air comes out from the sides of the tongue.

Practice – Lamp, Lift, Flight, Sale

6. /r/

This sound is another voiced sound, that can be a little difficult for people to understand depending on the language they speak.

It is not ‘aarrrrrrrrrrrrrrr’

For this sound, we need to pout a bit, bring the tip of our tongue close to the alveolar ridge, but it should not touch it. The sides of the tongue will touch the upper molar teeth lightly, and the air will come out of the space we have left between the alveolar ridge and the tip of the tongue.

Practice – Right, Rat, Fridge Far

7. /w/

It is the sound ‘ooooooooh’
Woooowwww…

The /w/ sound needs us to bring our lips into a rounded pout with only a little space left for the air to come out.
The tip of the tongue touches the back of the lower teeth and the back of the tongue goes up.

Practice – Wow, Swallow, One, Morrow

8. /j/

This is the sound that we usually use when pronouncing ‘y’ in a word. But it is used other times as well.

The tip of the tongue goes behind the lower teeth, the back of our tongue goes up and the sides of the tongue touch our upper molar teeth.

Practice – You, Year, New, Onion

So these were the Pronunciation of Consonant Sounds – Unpaired. None of them has any other consonant copying their manner of articulation.

Watch the video below to get some visual explanation of what you have just read.

In the next article, we will understand the paired consonants. Until then practice these and get used to paying attention to your speech organs.


Is there anything you want to share or any question you want to ask? Please comment with your thoughts.

Question – Are the audios helpful enough?

Wish you a very Happy New Year filled with hopes and dreams 🙂

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